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WEALDEN STYLE FARMHOUSE

WEALDEN DESIGN CASE STUDY

WEALDEN STYLE OAK FRAMED FARMHOUSE BUILDING

THIS NEW OAK FRAMED FARMHOUSE BUILDING GIVES MORE THAN A NOD TO TRADITIONAL WEALDEN DESIGN

 

The Wades had already completed a meticulous conversion of barns on their Kent farm into offices and had decided that they wanted a traditional style for their new house, with oak floors, doors and frames. So first the trees were cut for the doors and floor boards according to Bill’s estimate of the quantities required, and the timber went into storage in a barn while the design got under way.

 

OAK FRAMED FARMHOUSE COST

 

Area:

Kent

House Type:

Country Home Collection

House Size:

360m2

Build Route:

Oak frame Package

Finance:

Private

Build Time:

Aug 2002 - Feb 2004

Build Cost:

£550,000 

Country Home Collection, kent oak home

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OAK FRAME IDEAS


Bill and Gill went on a thorough search for ideas for their new home. On a visit to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester, to examine original 16th Century buildings, their ideas crystallised around the Bayleaf farmstead, a timber-frame hall house from the 15th or early 16th Century, as a model for their new plans. 'We loved the style, but we wanted large windows and 21st Century technology,' says Gill. The Wades avoided the usual tussle to find and buy a plot, since Bill's father had bought the Kent farm on which the house stands 41 years ago. In the 1960s, Bill had helped build a typical modern house there for his parents. For the Wade's current new home, converting the 1960s house was one solution, but they quickly realised the amount of work would be prohibitive. 'We wanted to install a heat exchange system, which would have wrecked the old house. But the deciding factor was that you don't pay VAT on a new build,' explains Bill.

The new oak self-build house gives more than a nod to traditional Wealden design. It nestles in a picturesque spot in a valley overlooking the beautiful Kent countryside, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Thanks to its oak frame, colourful Belgian brick chimneys and careful landscaping, it has a storybook magic.

 

 

PLANNING ISSUES


Bill didn't envisage planning problems as he knew that the local authority thought his 1960s house a blot on the landscape. He carefully stuck to the same footprint for the house, making some areas 1m narrower to allow more space for the oak garage and annexe above, and employed a planning firm to get the consents for him. So it was a surprise when the traditional Wealden 50Degree roof pitch was rejected. 'The planning office said it would make the house too high, but we stuck to our gins as the house in a valley, hiding the roof from view, and they eventually caved,' says Bill.

The point that took longest to resolve was 'section 106', an agricultural regulation which once would have tied the farmer to the house, but which now means that the land and house are tied, and whilst anyone can live in the house, one can not be sold without the other. This delayed the build until the winter.

 

 

A HOUSE DESIGNED FOR LIFE


To design the house and supply the green oak timber frame, the couple settled on Oakwrights. 'They asked us to come along with a ‘wish list’ rather than showing us standard frames which could be modified', says Gill. Working with the Oakwrights Architectural Designers rather than an independent architect, the Wades knew the house would come from a working knowledge of what could be done with the frame. Gill wanted to build in some architectural nooks and crannies to complement the building’s traditional design, but Oakwrights advised against this, saying that the features would create themselves. 'And they were right! Oakwrights have a real passion for what they do,' says Gill. 

The build was to be funded by the sale of Gill’s previous home, but some costs were reduced because, as a farmer, Bill has access to equipment that would otherwise have had to be hired. He can also turn his hand to any trade, and even bought a joiners workshop, which was going cheap, in order to use the tools. All the trades were local and knew each other which made for good working relationships. 'We call it the Biggin Hill Mafia,' says Bill.

BILL AND GILL WADE'S FARMHOUSE BEGAN NOT WITH A PLAN OR SKETCH, NOT EVEN WITH BUILDING MATERIALS, BUT WITH THE PURCHASE OF 40 OAK TREES

wealden style oak house in summer
wealden style oak house by oakwrights
wealden style oak house in winter

PREPARING THE SITE


Bill project managed the build, and he and Gill were on site every day. The old house was demolished in a day. 'It was a terrible feeling, spending just eight hours demolishing a house we spent years putting up - a bit like seeing your car in a crusher,' says Bill. The old footings were hooked out and the new ones dug deeper, to 1.5m, with massive ones for the chimneys. Underlying the land is solid chalk. The basement was dug out and its walls brought to the level of the footings. The ground floor consists of concrete beams sitting on top of the basement walls. Next came the scaffolding up to the level of the first floor, ready to support the oak frame.

 

 

THE TIMBER FRAME GOES UP!


'It was so exciting, but also terrifying, seeing the frame go up. We had measured the footings over and over, and knew our sizing was correct. The payments are staged, and you’ve paid for the wood and frame before you see it on site, so just pray it will fit,' Bill explains. Once the oak frame was up, the Wades jumped up a gear and decided to spend extra to match the majesty of the house. 'We had to do it justice, to go for the highest spec, and make it all singing and all dancing,' says Gill. The frame is in green oak, which will shrink and settle over the years, and each piece is numbered and pegged together. 'The noise from the cracking as it dries is incredible for the first 18 months,' says Bill.

 

The seasoned timber cut from his oak trees, creating the beautiful wide floorboards and doors, will also dry out, and the only kiln-dried wood is in the staircases and window frames. Light floods into the house from every aspect and there's a gloriously large double-height window in the dining hall. For practical reason, tiny Tudor windows would be unacceptable today, as some must be usable as fire escapes, and the Wades also wanted windows with low sills. 'When I saw the oak frame go up, I realised one of the windows was too close to the corner of the building. Oakwrights immediately supplied new drawings and the problem was fixed in just one day,' says Gill.

 

 

THE FARMHOUSE INTERIOR


On the ground floor, the farmhouse has a large dining hall, with doors leading off it to a large comfortable living room with views over the fields, to a fitted kitchen – also in oak – with more views, and onto a breakfast room. A staircase from the dining hall leads to a mezzanine galleried living area and to the bedrooms. Upstairs, the master bedroom has a large en-suite with bath and tiles found on a visit to the Ideal Home Show. There are two further bedrooms, a bathroom and an annexe with its own entrance, containing a living room, bedroom, bathroom and a narrow galley kitchen. The Wades used a specialist company for the living room fireplace and the magnificent dining room fireplace, set in a corner of the room, where it makes a spectacular feature. 

The style of the dining room fireplace was the result of teamwork. The Wades had originally wanted an oak surround, but their bricklayer suggested the stone. 'The firm that supplied it supplies technical working drawings for the builder – the fireplace is guaranteed not to smoke and the chimney incorporates a steel flue. It was expensive, but worth it,' says Bill. 'The bricklayer was amazed to get such detailed plans, as usually he has to work out a chimney design for himself.' Bill and Gill's presence on site meant they could solve problems on the spot. For instance, when they realised the turn in the staircase would affect head height in the living room below, they replaced the offending section with a supporting post, turning a potential disaster into a feature.

sunlit oak bedroom

THE KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL SELF-BUILD


The Wade's success came from working alongside their tradesmen and keeping their team together. 'Every afternoon we'd stop for a cup of tea and sit and discuss the project,' says Gill. 
'We even had a works outing - 12 of us went to a Status Quo concert in a van. There wasn't one day we didn't enjoy! We always looked two or three weeks ahead and worked on any area that we could.' The kitchen went in before the rest of the house was finished, and was sealed off. 'It was good psychologically to get one part completed,' says Gill. 

An essential for this house was a heat exchange system which filters the air within the building and keeps Bill's asthma under control. 'The air feels good and it's never stuffy in here,' says Bill. The couple decided to put the system in the loft space rather than the basement, to avoid the large diameter pipework spoiling the interior of the house. A centralised vacuum system also improves air quality, taking dust out of the building, unlike standard vacuum cleaners which allow some particles back into the room. The house has underfloor heating and is wired for the 21st Century, with computer - controlled lighting and entertainment systems and the electronic gate. But these modern conveniences are well camouflaged - the control system lies behind the door of an old bread oven set into one wall. 

 

A PLACE IN HISTORY


The landscaping is stunning, cut into a bank on one side of the house, and featuring two ponds overlooking the fields, fed by rainwater from the roof. It was three-quarters completed before the oak house was finished, partly because the bank needed to be planted to secure it, and also because the Wades' full-time team meant that there was always someone on site to work on it if work indoors was held up. Bromley Council gave the house an environmental award - the final touch in a near - perfect tale of self-build success. So what do the Wades think now the work is done? Gill sums it up perfectly: 'We've built history. We'd like to think it will be here in 200 years time!'

an oakwrights home kitchen

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